Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Appeals Over Release of Trump’s Financial Records

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
December 13, 2019Updated: December 16, 2019

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear President Donald Trump’s appeals in cases requesting the top court to block the House and a New York investigation from having access to his financial records.

The top court justices met in a private conference on Dec. 13 to discuss whether to hear Trump’s appeals of lower court decisions that require his accounting firm Mazars USA and two banks to comply with the subpoenas issued by the House and a New York district attorney in a grand jury probe.

Three cases relating to Trump’s financial records have reached the Supreme Court in recent weeks, after appellate judges upheld the subpoenas. Two of the cases stem from subpoenas that were issued earlier in the year by three House committees as part of their probes into the president’s dealings. Meanwhile, the third case deals with a criminal investigation in Manhattan.

Trump has asked the Supreme Court to reverse the lower courts’ decisions in all three cases.

The justices on Dec. 13 granted Trump’s request to hear the appeals for all three cases and consolidated two of the cases so they could be heard together (pdf). Oral arguments for all three cases will be scheduled for March 2020.

The subpoenas are unrelated to the two articles of impeachment that were approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 13 and could continue to cause concerns for the president into 2020 even if he’s acquitted by the Senate.

Manhattan Case

In the Manhattan case, District Attorney of New York County Cyrus Vance Jr. issued a subpoena to Mazars requesting Trump’s financial records in connection with a criminal case. Vance is investigating hush money allegedly paid to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign—adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Trump has denied the affairs and any other wrongdoing. Trump sued Vance in September in an attempt to block the subpoena. The district court denied Trump’s application for an injunction over the subpoena and dismissed the case in October, prompting the president’s lawyers to file an appeal.

In early November, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision to deny Trump injunctive relief. It said that the president is unlikely to succeed in his claim that he is “absolutely immune from all stages of state criminal process while in office, including pre-indictment investigation, and that the Mazars subpoena cannot be enforced in furtherance of any investigation into his activities.”

Trump’s legal team appealed to the Supreme Court on Nov. 14, arguing in their petition (pdf) that the lower courts had incorrectly ruled on the issue of immunity.

Mazars Subpoena Case

The first House case centers on a subpoena issued by the House Oversight Committee to Mazars to hand over eight years of financial records involving Trump and his business in April as part of its probe into allegations about the president’s financial statements. Trump’s legal team subsequently filed a lawsuit to invalidate the subpoena and asked for an injunction over its enforcement.

In October, a lower court ruled that the committee had the authority to subpoena the records from the New York accounting firm, while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected Trump’s request in November to reconsider the lower court’s decision.

In their petition (pdf) to the Supreme Court, Trump’s attorneys argued that the subpoena lacked “legitimate legislative purpose,” because it cannot exercise powers of law enforcement, and a congressional investigation cannot “extend to an area in which Congress is forbidden to legislate.”

This case has been consolidated with the other case involving House subpoenas for documents from two banks.

Deutsche Bank Subpoena Case

Similarly, the second House case involves subpoenas issued by the House Financial Services and House Intelligence committees in April to two banks—Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp.—asking them to turn over Trump’s financial documents.

Trump then sued the two banks in April in an effort to stop them from complying with the subpoenas, arguing that the House subpoenas were unlawful and unconstitutional. But, in May, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled that subpoenas have “a legitimate legislative purpose” and could be enforced.

Ramos’s ruling prompted Trump to file an appeal in August to the Second Circuit Court. But the court ruled on Dec. 3 that the banks must comply with the subpoenas.

Trump’s legal team filed the emergency application for a stay on the lower court’s ruling on Dec. 6 in order to enable them time to file a petition to the Supreme Court to review the case. Their application was granted by the Supreme Court later that day. In a filing on Dec. 12, Trump’s attorneys asked the Supreme Court to extend their stay on the lower court’s decision of the case pending the filing of a petition (pdf).

The justices said in their Dec. 13 order that they have treated Trump’s application for stay as a petition for a writ of certiorari, while granting them a stay on the Second Circuit Court’s decision until further orders from the court.

This case has been consolidated for oral arguments with the Mazars case.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mimi Nguyen-Ly contributed to this report.